Author Archives: churchc

Brazil to unleash GM-mosquito swarms to fight dengue

New Scientist 23 July 2014

Time to unleash the mozzies? Genetically modified mosquitoes will be raised on a commercial scale for the first time, in a bid to stem outbreaks of dengue fever in Brazil. But it is unclear how well it will work.

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Threatwatch: Chikungunya virus hits the US and Europe

New Scientist 23 July 2014

Chikungunya is on the move. Locally acquired cases of the mosquito-borne virus, native to central Africa, have been identified in the US for the first time, and virologists are warning it could spread to Europe. At the same time, the virus is rampaging across the Caribbean, which has seen a 24 per cent increase in cases in the last week alone.

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The Influence of Risk Perception on Biosafety Level-2 Laboratory Workers’ Hand-To-Face Contact Behaviors

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene Volume 11, Issue 9, 2014; DOI: 10.1080/15459624.2014.887206

Pathogen transmission in the laboratory is thought to occur primarily through inhalation of infectious aerosols or by direct contact with mucous membranes on the face. While significant research has focused on controlling inhalation exposures, little has been written about hand contamination and subsequent hand-to-face contact (HFC) transmission. HFC may present a significant risk to workers in biosafety level-2 (BSL-2) laboratories where there is typically no barrier between the workers’ hands and face. The purpose of this study was to measure the frequency and location of HFC among BSL-2 workers, and to identify psychosocial factors that influence the behavior. Research workers (N = 93) from 21 BSL-2 laboratories consented to participate in the study. Two study personnel measured workers’ HFC behaviors by direct observation during activities related to cell culture maintenance, cell infection, virus harvesting, reagent and media preparation, and tissue processing. Following observations, a survey measuring 11 psychosocial predictors of HFC was administered to participants. Study personnel recorded 396 touches to the face over the course of the study (mean = 2.6 HFCs/hr). Of the 93 subjects, 67 (72%) touched their face at least once, ranging from 0.2–16.0 HFCs/hr. Among those who touched their face, contact with the nose was most common (44.9%), followed by contact with the forehead (36.9%), cheek/chin (12.5%), mouth (4.0%), and eye (1.7%). HFC rates were significantly different across laboratories F(20, 72) = 1.85, p = 0.03. Perceived severity of infection predicted lower rates of HFC (p = 0.03). For every one-point increase in the severity scale, workers had 0.41 fewer HFCs/hr (r = −.27, P < 0.05). This study suggests HFC is common among BSL-2 laboratory workers, but largely overlooked as a major route of exposure. Workers’ risk perceptions had a modest impact on their HFC behaviors, but other factors not considered in this study, including social modeling and work intensity, may play a stronger role in predicting the behavior. Mucous membrane protection should be considered as part of the BSL-2 PPE ensemble to prevent HFC.

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MH17: Tony Abbott announces Operation Bring Them Home to secure and identify victims of Malaysia Airlines disaster

ABC News Karen Barlow 22 July 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced a major operation to secure and identify the bodies from the Malaysia Airlines disaster in Ukraine.

Mr Abbott said Operation Bring Them Home would be coordinated from Ukraine by former Australian Defence Force chief Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

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NIST Webinar to Cover Validation of Forensic DNA Testing Technologies – Aug. 6, 2014

Forensic DNA analysts and other interested stakeholders are invited to participate in a free NIST webinar on validation concepts and resources on Aug. 6, 2014, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., ET.

In recent years, instrument manufacturers and software companies have created new technologies to analyze challenging DNA samples. Examples include new quantification kits, STR multiplexes, instruments for CE separation, and an increasing number of available software programs for interpreting complex mixtures.

These new technologies must be tested and validated before they can be reliably used in a forensic laboratory. NIST, Boston University and California Department of Justice experts will cover validation concepts and NIST software tools to assist in the validation process.

Presenters will be:

  • Robin Cotton, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Biomedical Forensic Sciences Program, Boston University School of Medicine
  • John Butler, Ph.D., special assistant to the director for forensic science, NIST
  • Mark Timken, Ph.D., senior criminalist, California Department of Justice
  • Catherine Grgicak, Ph.D., assistant professor, Biomedical Forensic Sciences Program, Boston University School of Medicine
  • Becky Hill, M.S., research biologist, NIST Applied Genetic Group

The webinar is free, but registration is required to access the live event. Registrants will receive a certificate of attendance. A recording of the webinar will be posted on the NIST website approximately one week after the event. Go to for registration information.

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US admits security breaches with deadly virus samples

New Scientist No 2978 15 July 2014

Biosecurity slip-ups in US labs handling anthrax and smallpox happened because of lack of oversight and failure to follow protocol, says new report.  The incident has not yet made anyone ill, and poses negligible risk for the public, but it raises concerns about work with deadly pathogens.

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Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology  Available online 19 July 2014;  DOI: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2014.07.003

Selenium (Se) is a trace element essential for the appropriate course of vital processes in the human body. It is also a constituent of the active center of glutathione peroxidase that protects cellular membranes against the adverse effects of H2O2 lipid peroxides. Epidemiological surveys have demonstrated that selenium deficiency in the body may contribute to an increased risk for certain neoplasmic diseases (including colonic carcinoma, gastric carcinoma, pulmonary carcinoma and prostate carcinoma), as well as diseases of the cardiovascular, osseous and nervous systems. Apart from its cancer prevention and antioxidative activities, selenium protects the body against detrimental effects of heavy metals and determines the proper functioning of the immunological system.

Furthermore, selenium plays a significant role in the undisturbed functioning of the reproductive system. Many studies have addressed correlations between its intake and fertility as well as disorders of procreation processes. Selenium deficiencies may lead to gestational complications, miscarriages and the damaging of the nervous and immune systems of the fetus. A low concentration of selenium in blood serum in the early stage of pregnancy has been proved to be a predictor of low birth weight of a newborn. A deficiency of this element may also cause infertility in men by causing a deterioration in the quality of semen and in sperm motility. For this reason, supplementation in the case of selenium deficiencies in the procreation period of both women and men is of utmost significance.

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Effects Of Selenium Compounds On Proliferation And Epigenetic Marks Of Breast Cancer Cells

Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology  Available online 16 July 2014;  DOI: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2014.06.017

Breast cancer is a global public health problem and the most frequent cause of cancer death among women. Mammary carcinogenesis is driven not only by genetic alterations, but also by epigenetic disturbances. Because epigenetic marks are potentially reversible they represent promising molecular targets for breast cancer prevention interventions. Selenium is a promising anti-breast cancer trace element that has shown modulation of DNA methylation and histone posttranslational modifications in other malignancies. This study aimed to evaluate the effects of selenium compounds [methylseleninic acid (MSA) and selenite] on cell proliferation and death, expression of the tumor suppressor gene RASSF1A and epigenetic marks in MCF-7 human breast adenocarcinoma cells. Treatment with MSA or selenite markedly inhibited (P < 0.05) in a dose-dependent manner the proliferation of MCF-7 cells. MSA induced (P < 0.05) G2/M cell arrest while selenite presented the opposite effect. Regarding cell death induction, MSA acted mainly by inducing apoptosis (P < 0.05), while selenite only induced necrosis (P < 0.05). Furthermore selenite, but not MSA, markedly induced (P < 0.05) cytotoxicity and increased (P < 0.05) RASSF1A expression. Both selenium compounds inhibited (P < 0.05) DNMT1 expression. MSA decreased (P < 0.05) H3K9me3 and increased (P < 0.05) H4K16ac, while selenite decreased (P < 0.05) this latter histone mark. To the best of our knowledge this is the first report showing that selenite and MSA modulate epigenetic marks specifically in breast cancer cells. Our data reinforce the anti-breast cancer potential of selenium that is dependent on its chemical form. Furthermore the data show that epigenetic mechanisms represent relevant molecular targets involved in selenium inhibitory effects in breast cancer cells.

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Alarm over biosafety blunders

Science 18 July 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6194 pp. 247-248
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6194.247

Tom Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), held an alarming press conference on 11 July, describing lab mistakes with three deadly pathogens and vowing to “do everything in my power to make sure that nothing like this happens again.” In separate incidents at CDC in Atlanta, a dangerous influenza virus unwittingly contaminated a sample of a benign one, and a supposedly inactivated batch of anthrax bacteria turned out to be alive. At the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, workers cleaning out a cold storage room discovered vials that held freeze-dried smallpox virus from 1954, which should have been destroyed decades ago; CDC scientists later discovered that they could reconstitute infectious smallpox virus from at least two of the six vials discovered. Fallout from the blunders includes a temporary CDC moratorium on shipping dangerous pathogens, the closing of two involved CDC labs, congressional inquiries, and increased scrutiny of controversial “gain-of-function” research that intentionally makes influenza virus strains more dangerous to humans in order to better understand the factors behind its pathogenicity.

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A radical change in peer review

Science 18 July 2014:   Vol. 345 no. 6194 pp. 248-249
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6194.248

A recent pilot project by the National Science Foundation (NSF) aimed at easing the strain on its vaunted merit review system featured an unusual twist: Grant applicants were required to review seven proposals from peers competing for the same pot of money. The approach created a captive—and highly motivated—pool of reviewers for program managers within NSF’s Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation Division, saving them time. And using mail reviews rather than panels also saved NSF money. The quality of the reviews also seemed to be comparable to what is generated with NSF’s traditional approach to peer review. NSF officials are weighing whether to expand the pilot to other programs.

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